Technology and Touch
Approaches to effective service can run the gamut of low-tech/high-touch to high-tech/low-touch, depending on a carrier's available resources and its service concept. A small direct distributor, for example, might choose to keep the customer happy at all costs - a goal that would be prohibitive for large carriers - and largely forego the efficiencies of automation. "Making customer retention a little more expensive probably isn't the worst way to go" for such a carrier, Hersh says. "For every customer you upset by trying to save money on a call, you're going to cost yourself a tremendous amount on customer acquisition later."
Large carriers more likely will have the scale to approach a high-tech/high-touch model, but also are likely to face the obstacles inherent in siloed systems. Particularly in life companies that have grown by acquisition, multiple administration systems compounded by multiple call centers can make even simple tasks difficult. "When somebody does eventually pick up the phone in the right place, they may still need your policy number to address your inquiry," Hersh laments. "That's not very satisfactory if the reason you called was to ask what your policy number is!"
Poor systems integration also gets in the way of tiering customers based on the amount of business they do with the firm, as well as successfully managing call center overflows, according to Hersh. For example, lines of life insurance that no longer are actively sold eventually will see a drop-off in associated service calls, while newer lines of business will see growing volume. To handle contact center volume fluctuations, insurers need to be able to channel overflow to secondary call centers automatically. "That's no big deal itself - you could probably do that with your home phone," Hersh comments. "But what's critical is that the system be smart enough to route overflow calls to people outside the principal call center staff who have adequate skills to deal with them."
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio